After enduring a somewhat turbulent summer, Southampton began their season away to a Liverpool team that purchased three of their key performers last season. Whilst the result went against them, it was the manner of their performance that should fill fans of the Saints with optimism for the remainder of the forthcoming season.
A late tap in from Daniel Sturridge plus a fantastic 88th-minute save from Simon Mignolet, who stopped Morgan Schneiderlin’s powerful volley, meant Southampton were lamenting an undeserved defeat at full time. Nevertheless, for supporters of the Saints, they must look no further than Schneiderlin’s performance for encouragement for the coming fixtures. Pushing for a move all summer, the Frenchman managed to put aside his displeasure to produce a commanding midfield performance alongside Victor Wanyama and Steven Davis. Such a performance against last season’s runners up should be considered a positive omen for the season to come.
Making his debut in goal Fraser Forster looked assured, whilst his backline remained solid in the main, apart from some slack defending particularly for the second Liverpool goal. It would be remiss of me to eulogize too much over the Saints defence, however, the links to Ron Vlaar seem justified when you consider the concession of the second goal in particular.
Frankly speaking the performance of the Southampton team against one of the title favourites was very encouraging. Dominating possession and negating players like Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho can only be a positive for the remainder of the campaign.
Many have castigated the Southampton board for their actions during the summer, yet from a realist perspective the money they have now acquired through player sales represents good business. Providing they manage to strengthen their defence and perhaps add another wide player to ease the creative burden on James Ward-Prowse and summer signing Dusan Tadic, then a top 10 place remains a distinct possibility this season. However, adding Shane Long for a significant fee of over £12 million remains somewhat of a gamble – seven goals in 26 games for both West Bromwich Albion and Hull City last season is a little underwhelming. Although proven at top-flight level, the pressure will be on the Republic of Ireland international to find the net on a more consistent basis.
Aside from Long the addition of Graziano Pellè is an intriguing one. At 29, he appears to be a late bloomer, having notched up almost a goal a game for Feyenoord in the past two seasons – adapting to a tougher division of soccer will be key to his success. It may be perceived as rich to place too much pressure on the shoulders of the Italian, however, his work rate and positional awareness was more than enough for Saints fans to salivate over.
Pivotal to the Saints’ system is newly appointed manager Ronald Koeman. Admittedly his tenure could have begun in a better manner, without the loss of key players, yet he has the nucleus of a squad that should impress throughout the season. The 51-year-old’s managerial record has been patchy in recent times, where he proved thoroughly uninspiring with both Valencia and AZ Alkmaar. However, the supporters remain hopeful that his expansive style of play will make the club an attractive proposition, but ultimately a side that gains results.
The opening weekend display against Liverpool will not surprise those Saints fans who made the trek north to Liverpool. A top of the table finish last season was a fine achievement, and if they happen to repeat that feat it would be all the more impressive considering a summer of discontent and boardroom grumblings.